MLB: Guardians hope catching depth pays off again vs. A’s

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The Cleveland Guardians are expected to play another game of musical chairs with their catchers Friday night when they seek a second straight win over the host Oakland Athletics.

With former catcher Stephen Vogt managing his first big-league game Thursday, third-string catcher David Fry was the hitting star and second-stringer Austin Hedges called a shutout in an 8-0 victory over the A’s.

Neither of those things is likely to occur again in the rematch, when Cleveland’s regular catcher, Bo Naylor, is expected to get the call behind the plate against Oakland right-hander Ross Stripling (0-5, 5.36 ERA in 2023).

That figures to relegate Hedges to backup duties, while Fry likely will be replaced as the designated hitter by left-handed-hitting Will Brennan.

Vogt, a player known more for his offense than defense in a major league career in which he hit 82 homers in 794 games, surprised some by keeping three catchers on his Opening Day roster. He then doubled down on his decision in his debut, using Fry as his DH while never calling upon Naylor off the bench.

That wasn’t the only surprise Vogt pulled from under his cap in front of his old fans in Oakland. He gave Tyler Freeman, who played 54 games in the infield last season and one inning in the outfield (in left), his first career start as a center fielder. Freeman did spend most of the Cactus League campaign in center field this spring.

“I had never played anything but infield,” Freeman said of experimenting in the outfield in spring training, obviously forgetting the late-game move to left field for an inning in a 10-1 Cleveland loss to the Chicago Cubs last June. “There’s a lot to learn and it’s not going to be perfect.”

Noted Vogt, “I’ve used the word ‘versatile’ a lot this spring to describe our team.”

Freeman was flawless in the field in the opener and even more impressive at the plate, where he had a double and a single in Cleveland’s 11-hit attack. Fry collected a double and two singles.

In Stripling, the Guardians will see a second straight veteran pitcher making his A’s debut. Lefty Alex Wood lasted just 3 1/3 innings on Thursday, tagged for six runs on seven hits.

Stripling made 11 starts among his 22 appearances for the San Francisco Giants last season. He went 9-4 with a 2.92 ERA in 32 games (24 starts) for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2022.

The 34-year-old has faced Cleveland four times in his career, three times as a starter, going 2-1 with a 4.86 ERA.

He will be opposed by Guardians left-hander Logan Allen (7-8, 3.81 ERA in 2023), who made 24 starts as a rookie last season. One was against the A’s, when he shut out Oakland on two hits over four innings during a no-decision on June 22.

JJ Bleday had two of the Athletics’ four hits off Shane Bieber and three relievers in the opener, but as manager Mark Kotsay noted afterward, he didn’t get much help.

“JJ had a nice night,” Kotsay said of his No. 3 hitter. “For us to go as an offense, (Ryan) Noda and Zack (Gelof) have to get on base ahead of our 3-4-5 guys.”

Slotted first and second, respectively, in the lineup, Noda and Gelof went a combined 0-for-7 with four strikeouts.

–Field Level Media

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